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Series Forty-Eight: Marlins at Astros

So this is it. The biggest series of the year. The four game set that we've been talking about for a long time: Marlins versus Astros. The Big Three of the East against the Big Three of the Central (ok, so we won't see all of their big three, but that's not such a bad thing).

You may have noticed by now that Grover isn't here for this series preview. I'm handling it for him as we both thought it would be best if we did something a little bit different to shake things up. So Grover is out (for this series) and Joshua from Crawfish Boxes is in to tell us about the upcoming series and the Astros. We asked five questions and here are the answers:

1. If you had your pick of the Marlins' Big Three (Willis, Burnett, and Beckett) or the Astros' (Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte), which would you pick? Would your answer be different if you could have one for the rest of this season and a different one for 2006 - 2010?

I'd take the Houston rotation for the rest of the year, but you've got to think about it a little bit more now that Roger has this hamstring problem and has been ineffective a couple times. But regardless of Clemens' status, Andy Pettitte has been the best pitcher in the NL since the middle of June, and Roy Oswalt, despite having gone through a slump fairly recently, seems to thrive on the tight games the Astros so often thrust him into. I might have questions about throwing Beckett (and now it looks like Burnett, too) game after game in these tight 2 - 1, 2 - 0 contests our anemic offense seemingly demands that we play. Roy's so mean, he takes it as a personal affront, and he ratchets it up some more.

For the years to come, well, it's kind of hard to discuss Clemens' future right now. I can see Pettitte--with his repertoire and his control-- being successful at the age of 38 in 2010, and Oswalt should be the winningest pitcher in Astros history long before then, assuming nothing sad happens.

Burnett can still have that dominant 22-win season everyone has seen for him, and Beckett and Willis are so young, still.

But because loyalty is important to me--and to the Astros--I'll go with the pitchers I've come to know and love, and gamble on Brandon Backe, or maybe Taylor Buchholz, to come within stones throws of the other two in Clemens' place.

2. Does Roger Clemens deserve the Cy Young Award this season, or should voters hold his low win total against him?

I think that Chris Carpenter should win the Cy Young. Yes, he's pitched for a vastly superior offensive team, and no, his ERA is only outstanding and not amazing. But one thing that Carpenter has done that Clemens has not done is go consistently very deep in his games. Roger Clemens in 35 starts has gone 7 innings sixteen times, 8 innings four times and less than 7 fifteen times. Meanwhile, Carpenter has gone 7 innings seven times, and longer than 7 eighteen times. To get all Nietzschean about it, you can only express your will over the hitter so to speak if you're in the game to do so.

Yes, Clemens' support has been dreadful, but Carpenter has also given himself a better chance to win.

And I just can't throw out that win statistic. Carpenter has ten more victories and three fewer losses than Roger. Give Clemens the win in each of the 1 - 0 games he's pitched in that the Astros have lost, and Carpenter STILL has more victories.

Also, did you know that Clemens is 0 - 3 with a 4.45 in his last five starts? Or that his ERA in September is 7.88?

It is anyone's guess what Clemens' role for the rest of the year will be given this hamstring thing; you can assume that Carpenter will pitch about 30 innings the rest of the way, giving up what? four or five, if that?

3. Is this year the end of the Bagwell/Biggio era? What about Clemens - will he be back next year?

All credit to Biggio and Bagwell, who are merely the two greatest players in Astro history. But I think the Bagwell/Biggio era realy ended after the 2001 season. We are now in the Berkman era, or if Morgan Ensberg continues to play the way he has this year, the Berkman/Ensberg era.

Berkman has been the best player on the Astros for some time now.

Biggio remains a talented member of the supporting cast. He wants to retire an Astro with 3000 hits, and Drayton McLane wants to see the same thing. I therefore expect Biggio to play for the Astros in both 2006 and 2007.

Jeff Bagwell's future is much more cloudy. The fact that he returned to pinch-hit Friday after the capsular relaease surgery in his shoulder is already amazing, but much more is needed for him to contribute on a National League team. I'd like to see Jeff hit at least one more homer for the Astros (he has 449 for his career), but whether that will happen is again anyone's guess.

Until the hamstring, my guess was that Clemens would return in 2006 to take a shot at Warren Spahn, and see if he couldn't become baseball's biggest winner since the deadball era. But given how difficult it will be for a 43 year old man to recover from hamstring problems--and maybe, just maybe, how poorly he's been supported--I expect him to say, "who needs it?"

4. Who has been the biggest surprise for the Astros this year?

a) Willy Taveras. He still has an outside shot at the Houston rookie record for base hits, and he reminds me of nothing so much as Juan Pierre vintage 2003. He has an influence all out of proportion to his OPS. There have been flaws--like with his routes on fly balls, most notably, but he keeps surprising me. Like, just the other day I learned that Willy T can put the ball in fair territory against Billy Wagner. I didn't think he could do that, but he did. And he beat the throw from the shortstop, as he does, and then he scored, as he does, and we won because of something Willy did, and that has happened more than a couple times this year. His speed changes the game. He'll have a four-hit game, and when you go back and look, you'll see that two or three of them were infield hits. In fact, he's probably due for a four-hit game...

b) Dan Wheeler. We would have had no right to expect a bullpen arm we acquired for a player who was in single A to be so good. Wheeler has been our setup guy for Lidge all year, and has for good portions of it outpitched Brad.

5. Who do you think will win the Wild Card and how far do you think that team will go in the playoffs?

If a team is able to win this upcoming series--rather than just splitting it--you've really got to like that team's chances, no matter how many newfound questions they have about their rotation. And if the teams do split, that just may open the door for Philadelphia. I don't think any of the Wild Card contenders can beat the Cardinals.

I hope that everyone found that to be as insightful as I did. Thank you to Joshua from Crawfish Boxes!

I'll publish the answers that I gave to Crawfish Boxes later.